Friday, December 28, 2007

ESPN Sideline Reporter: Michigan St. Back "Runs for Life."

The ultimate example of media hypocrisy may have fallen into my lap. Currently, the 2007 Champs Sport Bowl between Boston College and Michigan State is in the tail end of the halftime break. BC leads 14-10. Their quarterback Matt Ryan threw for both TDs. This story, surprisingly, does not revolve around the much hyped Ryan; rather, the focus is on the leading rusher in the game, Michigan State's Jehuu Caulcrick.

Caulcrick is listed at 6'0 225 lbs on his profile. He ran even bigger in the first half, gaining the majority of his 44 yards after contact, often dragging defenders with him. Since the ball was only handed to him 8 times in the half, he boasted a strong 5.5 yards per carry average. Big powerful running backs aren't a story though. We're talking about football. We can all name a few. What's interesting is what you may not know about Caulrick. Rather, more specifically, what's interesting is the manner in which that information was told to me.

In a traditional attempt to add a "humanizing" story to the game, ESPN (the network carrying the game) sideline reporter Holly Rowe recounted the tale of Caulcrick's youth. Apparently, the young man was born and raised in Liberia until his mother brought him here to America. What makes the story so "special" is that, while living in Liberia, his Dad was a presidential aid up to the time of the "revolution" (as Rowe called it). Caulcrick and his family then, apparently, found themselves constantly on the run from people attempting to kill his father. Can you figure out where this story is going yet?

Rowe continued her tale to say that Caulcrick's mother finally brought him to America. According to Michigan State website, he attended high school at Clymer in New York and his hometown is listed as Findley Lake, NY. In fact, there is no mention of Liberia in his biography on that site. Anyway, the story turned ridiculous when Rowe reached her reason for explicating these facts about the running back.

In her culminating remarks, Rowe stated that Caulcrick still retains some of that feeling of running for his life when playing football.


Didn't the media drag Alabama head coach Nick Saban over the coals for his comparison of his team's loss to 9/11 and the attack on Pearl Harbor? Didn't they say the comparison trivialized the tragedy of those incidents because Saban linked them to a game? If I'm not mistaken, his comments were the story of the week. It must have been a slow news week.

Isn't war-torn Africa one of the media's favorite humanitarian issues? Don't they love to talk about how the United States should send aid to stop the violence in such countries such as Darfur (as is the most recent trendy example)? War-torn Africa is portrayed as one of the greatest contemporary tragedies. It must be difficult to talk about every incidence of violence in Africa though because Liberia isn't mentioned often...and apparently not taken very seriously.

How was Rowe allowed to go on television and make such a ridiculous remark? Caulcrick is a skilled running back because his family ran from the violence in Liberia? Her statement wasn't an indirect comparison in the way Saban's was. It was a direct cause-and-effect relationship. According to Rowe, Caulcrick's childhood experiences were a large contributing factor to his skill as a running back. Memo to college football coaches: start scouting war-torn Africans villages for the next Emmit Smith.

I'm not saying Rowe's comments were a huge deal. I'm not going to lie though. I was a bit taken aback. The ridiculous nature of the comment demonstrates a lack of intelligence on Rowe's part. After the initial shock wore off, I wondered why the media wasn't held to the same level of accountability that they hold everyone else to. Saban isn't a writer, speaker, actor, or any other type of great communicator. He's a football coach. He's not supposed to be able to deliver amazing speeches. Rowe, on the other hand, is a professional.

I realize that an editor probably doesn't stand over sideline reporters' shoulders and ok everything they're going to say, but if someone makes comments like Rowe did, should they be a sideline reporter? Who hired Rowe? Who promoted her to sideline reporter on a national broadcast of a college football bowl game? I'm not saying Rowe should be absolved of responsibility for her comment. However, she is not the only person who is at fault here.

For the sake of the media demonstrating self awareness and accountability (not for the sake of social sensitivity or political correctness), I'd like to see Rowe reprimanded or, at the very least, for her and ESPN to issue an apology. However, I doubt I'll hear about Rowe's comments ever again. Instead, with the media's need to insert such "storylines" and "analysis" into every broadcast, I may just have to start watching games on mute.

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